Bocas del Toro Surf Travel Guide

If you're looking for an experience unlike any other, with an archipelago dotted with many islands and even more surf breaks then make sure to have Bocas del Toro on your radar.

Bocas del Toro consists of 9 main islands and thousands of islets making this one of Panama's top eco-tourism destinations.  Home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, School for Field Studies, ITEC, a HOPE Hotspot, the natural ecosystem has always drawn people to this green, lush archipelago.

During the 90s surfers started to visit Bocas and before long pros made Bocas del Toro an annual stop looking for world class waves in a country with easy access from the US and Europe. Bocas is only a short 45 minute flight from Panama City and offers a wide variety of accommodation options, restaurants, incredible tours and a wild nightlife.  The variety of surfing spots also makes Bocas a hotspot for not only pros but beginners and intermediate surfers as well.

Isla Colon, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos are the three main islands that most surfers visit while in Bocas del Toro. Below we will explain a bit more about these islands.


Isla Colon: The Main Hub of Bocas del Toro

Home to the Bocas del Toro International Airport, Isla Colon is where most visitors stay or at least arrive when coming to Bocas del Toro. The main island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, Isla Colon is where historic Bocas Town is located, the capital city of the province of Bocas del Toro. Once considered one of the most important cities in Panama, nowadays Bocas Town has a small island vibe charm to it with a few roads, hotels, restaurants, tour agencies and shops. Bocas Town is considered the last "wooden" capital cities in Panama since there is still a few historic wooden houses with that Caribbean charm.

Isla Colon is the only paved island and you will find taxis as well. Getting around is pretty easy- either by car or by bike. You can also zip around the island on a water taxi too. Most of the hotels, restaurants and nightlife are also here. The only ATMs on the island are here (there are only two).

Isla Colon is home to some of the best waves in Bocas and has a surprising variety types of waves too. Everything from beginner sand breaks to kamakazi shore breaks Isla Colon has it all. Some of the waves worth mentioning are Tigers Tail, Paunch Beach, Dumpers and Bluff Beach. All of these spots are reef breaks except Bluff Beach. Tigers Tail and Paunch both have lefts and rights while Dumpers is only lefts. Bluff Beach is a powerful shore break located at the end of road from Bocas Town. Bluff Beach has hallow barrels running up and down the beach.

Isla Carenero: Island Vibes

Isla Carenero is the closest island to Bocas Town and happens to be the smallest of the 9 main islands. You could walk around isla Carenero in about an hour time. Isla Carenero has no roads but it does have a beachside path that leads from the urbanized section where most of the homes are located to the surf side home to some of Bocas del Toro best lefts.

Isla Carenero has three main spots: Black Rock, Old Mans and the Point. The first two are the most mellow of the selection, usually full of surf school students, longboarders, SUP surfers and locals learning how to surf. The wave is actually super fun and with size and have fun barreling sections and walls. The Point is the most popular wave in Bocas and there is a reason for that. The Point has many different sections, all lefts and when it's on no other wave compares to its perfection, especially when you can connect different sections and grab multiple barrels.


Isla Bastimentos: A Surfers Paradise

Isla Bastimentos is one of the larger islands of Bocas del Toro and is home to the small town of Old Bank. Like isla Carenero, Bastimentos also has no roads apart from some smaller ones on the private residence of Red Frog Beach Villas. This island is also home to the Bastimentos National Marine Park, Panama's first established marine park, and also some of the best waves in this Caribbean archipelago.

The principal spots are Wizard Beach and Long Beach. Wizard Beach is a beach break that is super fun when the conditions are right, it has fun lefts and rights and the waves connect and can be a longer fun ride. Long Beach is another super fun beach break with some reef patches around, this is a great place to check out when everything else is too small.

How to Get to Bocas del Toro

Getting to Bocas del Toro can be done by air, land and water. We will be focusing on air and land since these are the two most common ways to arrive.

  • Daily 45 minute flights from Panama City or San Jose, Costa Rica
  • 10 hour bus ride from Panama City, Panama
  • 10 hour shuttle or bus from San Jose, Costa Rica
  • 4 hour by road plus a 30 minute boat ride from David, Chiriqui

How to Get to Bocas del Toro by Plane from Panama City

There is one airline at the moment that flies to Bocas del Toro, Panama called Air Panama. They have roughly four flights a day on average. Flights are from the PAC airport, Albrook in Panama City. If you arrive to Panama via Tocumen International Airport (PTY) you need to leave this airport, grab a taxi/Uber and go to this domestic airport. Flights take about 45-minutes to Bocas del Toro and lands on Isla Colon, the main island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

How to Get to Bocas del Toro by Plane from Costa Rica

Aerobell offers flights from San José, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro, though the flights are less frequent than from Panama City.

How to Get to Bocas del Toro by bus from Panama City

Buses from Panama City leave in the evening between 7pm and 8pm from the Albrook bus terminal, and the trip takes about 10 hours to Almirante. From there, you will have to take a water taxi to the main island, which takes another 30 minutes.

How to Get to Bocas del Toro by bus from Costa Rica

In San José, Costa Rica you can take a bus from San José to Sixaola from the Coca Cola bus station, get your passport stamped in Sixaola at the border, cross the bridge on foot to the Panamanian side to do the rest of the immigration procedures, and then continue by bus to Almirante.

You can also go by shuttle from San José, Costa Rica with Caribe Shuttle.

Where to Stay in Bocas del Toro: Hotels, Hostels, Bed & Breakfasts

Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro

  • 421 Guest House: The perfect distance between the beach and Bocas Town. Comfortable private and shared rooms with air-conditioning, kitchen and chill vibes.
  • Saigon Bay Bed & Breakfast: Small, family run over-the-sea bed and breakfast with comfortable private rooms, kitchen, large sundeck, and beautiful hefty breakfasts.
  • Hotel Bocas del Toro: This beautiful boutique hotel offers private rooms over the sea with a delicious restaurant offering great food and tropical beverages. Local service, with a smile!
  • Mamallena Hostels Bocas: Mamallena Hostels offers private and shared dormitory rooms with a happening bar below directly over the sea. Enjoy sea breeze, bright smiles and good times.
  • Skully's House Bocas: A little out of town but a little closer to the beaches, this pirate theme hotel offers shared and private rooms only steps from the beach, a beachfront pool, the best activities and super cool vibes.
  • Azul Paradise Hotel: Luxury over-the-sea boutique hotel in the heart of Bocas Town only steps from restaurants and activities. This hotel has superb rooms, a great restaurant and can be combined with their off-grid bungalows at Bastimentos Island.
  • Somewhere: Beachfront hotel with ultra comfortable private rooms, top-quality service and delicious breakfasts.
  • Nowhere: Modern and comfortable private domes located a few minutes walk from the beach offering a private pool, great attention to detail and excellent service.
  • Nomad Tree Lodge: Nestled in the jungle of Isla Colon, only a few minutes from Paunch Beach is the super cool Nomad Tree Lodge, offering comfortable private rooms, pool, kitchen and super chill vibes.
  • Surf Break at Paunch Bed & Breakfast: Just a few minutes from famous Paunch Beach is Surf Break at Paunch BnB offering colorful private rooms and award winning service.
  • Tesoro Escondido: Tesoro Escondido provides a simple, rustic, quiet, and laid back refuge for nature lovers, hidden within the trees lining two breathtaking coves next to Bluff Beach.
  • Hummingbird Bed & Breakfast: The Hummingbird is a boutique Eco B&B located directly on beautiful Bluff Beach offering 6 suites, pool and restaurant/bar set amongst tropical gardens with the jungle as a backdrop and views overlooking the ocean.
  • Island Plantation: Island Plantation is a small Bali-Style Eco Resort situated right in front of Bluff Beach, offering 11 comfortable and tastefully rooms and suites.
  • Oasis Bed & Breakfast: Located directly in front of the best waves in Bocas del Toro, Bluff Beach, Oasis is truly that, an oasis. Offering private rooms, a delicious restaurant and attention to customer service and details this is a great option.
  • Divers Paradise Boutique Hotel: Divers Paradise has beautiful private rooms, a delightful over-the-sea restaurant and of course a 5-star PADI dive center. Only steps from the center of Bocas Town this is a great option if you're looking for style and complete relaxation.
  • Hotel Casa Max: Located in Bocas Town Casa Max has a fun Caribbean style vibe with a mix of Dutch and Indonesian! Find comfortable private rooms fitted in Caribbean flare, an Indonesian restaurant and make sure to check out their dive center just across the street- Bocas Pirates Dive Center.

Other Islands of Bocas del Toro

  • Sol Bungalows: The newest overwater bungalow in Bocas del Toro, Panama located at isla Solarte offering affordable luxury bungalows completely over-the-sea only minutes from Bocas Town and the surf by boat.
  • Bamuda Lodge: Bambuda Lodge is the only Bocas del Toro Hostel with a waterfront location, massive fresh water pool and 150 ft waterslide from the bar to the ocean.
  • Hotel Tierra Verde: Nestled in the jungles of Carenero island located directly in front of the sea is Hotel Tierra Verde, offering a family run bnb only steps away from the surf. It's a no brainer, you gotta stay here!
  • Red Frog Villas & Resort: Offering luxury villas in the secluded private community of Red Frog Villas. Located in front of famous Red Frog Beach and Playa Tortuga these villas have everything you could ever want. If you're looking for an all inclusive luxury Bocas del Toro experience THIS is the place to stay.
  • Palmar Tent Lodge: Stay directly on Bocas del Toro's famous Red Frog Beach in a lush tropical rainforest. Privates and Dorms available at Palmar Beach Lodge.

After a surf session make sure to visit Lil Spa By the Sea a family run business offering the best massages in Bocas del Toro, you won't regret it!

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